Silent Dreams
By: Maggie

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Disclaimer: The following characters belong to CBS and Mirisch Co., unfortunately. But
do to wonderful kindness on their part, I borrow them on certain occasions to torture
and abuse, oops, I mean satisfy my muse.

Rating: PG13 for violence and language.

Warning: This is a story for Cassie’s birthday. So you know its gonna have hurt, smarm
and way to many emotional scenes. Oh well, it is for a good cause.

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A picture can hold a thousand words, but friendship can contain an eternity.

******************************************

“Why do I have to babysit this goon? You guys are always telling me what to do, and
giving me the lame jobs.” J.D. Dunne paced the jailhouse like a caged tiger. He and the
others had caught a wanted bank robber earlier that day, and Chris Larabee gave him
the assignment of watching the character. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the kid.

“For the last time, J.D. You don’t always get the crappy jobs and yes sometimes we pull
rank on you, but its for your own good.” Buck Wilmington spoke to the teenager like he
was no older than three.

“What do you mean for my own good?” J.D. sighed as he seated himself behind the
sheriff’s desk. “What good is it for me to sit here and watch that bum sleep when you
guys get to hang out in the saloon.”

The others, the kid had been referring to, were none other than, Vin Tanner, Josiah
Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, and Ezra Standish. The final persons to round out the town’s
seven protectors.

Chris stepped up to the desk and leaned in toward the kid. “Listen J.D. Everybody in
here, except for you, has had the shit jobs before. When you get to be our age, well, you
can torture some other poor kid and then we’ll be even.” At that, the gunslinger turned
and walked out the door not giving the young charge a second glance.

“He’s right. We’ve all had to do it, its just your turn.” Josiah said his words of wisdom
and followed in the wake of their leader. Nathan nodded his agreement and also exited.

“Look at it this way, son. Your beating your head against the proverbial brick wall
trying to change Mr. Larabee’s mind, so I suggest you accept defeat with some dignity
and let it go.” Ezra stuffed his deck of cards inside his jacket and left to resume his table
at the local saloon.

“Look kid, if you want, I’ll hang out with you.” Buck hated to see the distraught look on
his friend’s face. He remembered being the youngest and having the elders’ use him as
the gopher, so he knew how the kid was feeling.

J.D. glanced at his best friend and then at the lone figure propped against the doorjam.
“So do you think its fair, Vin?”

Tanner looked long and hard at the black-haired teen and then pushed himself upright.
“Ain’t got nothing to do with fair, kid. If you want to learn the right way of doing
things, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want. Simple as that.”

The two gunmen watched defeat enter the youth’s dark eyes and sighed inward for
being some of the cause. “Chris is just trying to show you that life ain’t always full of
excitment, J.D. And....”

The young man held up his hand to ward off another lecture. “I know Buck. I need to
learn that being a gunman sometimes can be as normal as the sun rising and setting.”
J.D. slumped in his chair. “Go on to the saloon. I’ll be all right Buck.”

Wilmington hesitated a few minutes looking from the youth to Vin, who now held the
door open waiting for the older man to exit with him.

“Well if your sure?” Buck took a couple of steps and then turned once more to his
seated friend.

“I’m sure. Go.” The teen looked away from the men and stared at the occupied cell.

The gunslinger sighed heavily and followed the lanky tracker outside. “Do you think
Chris is still trying to get the kid to quit and go back East?” Buck questioned the other
man as they walked to the saloon.

“I think Chris is trying to keep J.D. alive. And to do that, he’s showing him the good
and bad points to what we do.” Vin stopped and gave his friend a half smile. “Look
Buck, I know how much the kid means to you. He means a lot to all of us. He’s just
gonna have to learn when to take orders and when to stand and fight.” The bounty
hunter slapped the older man lightly on the shoulder and continued on to the saloon.

Buck stood watching the jailhouse. “I just hope Chris ain’t pushing him away.”
Wilmington shook his head sadly and went to join his friends.

J.D. observed the exchange between the two gunmen and also sighed. * They’ll never let
me grow up.* He turned his attention back to the sleeping form in the cell and settled in
for the night.

*******************************************************

Around about midnight............

“Boy, hey boy. Wake up.” Wayne Haverty yelled mercilessly at J.D. who lay sleeping in
the chair. “Hey kid, I need help here.”

J.D. jumped slightly at the last words, “Wha-?” He looked around groggily and noticed
the prisoner standing, or rather half hanging, against the cell bars. “Hey mister,
something wrong?” The kid rushed to the cell.

“Yeah, I think I’m sick or something. Everythings kinda fuzzy.” The man was slurring
his words.

“Just hang on. I’ll go and get Nathan. He’ll be able to help.” J.D. turned to leave but a
hand on his arm stopped him.

“I don’t think I can wait. Help me, please.” Haverty looked as if he was about to pass
out.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” The teen retrieved the keys from the post in the middle of
the room and returned to the cell. He hesitated as he inserted the key.

“Hurry.” Wayne slumped heavily against the door. J.D. turned the key and started
easing the door open, but suddenly he was hit hard in the chest by the bars. “Stupid
kid.” The young man sagged back from the impact.

“Nighty, nighty boy.” Haverty swung a meaty fist at J.D.’s stunned form, and before the
kid could react, blackness overtook him.

****************************************************************

“You turning in cowboy?” Vin stood side by side with Chris on the front porch of the
establishment.

“I think I’ll take a quick look around first.” Larabee gave his friend a half smile.

“You mean, your gonna look in on J.D. and see if he’s still mad at you.” Tanner didn’t
hide the mischievious grin.

Chris snorted at the remark, but didn’t deny it. “Good night.” The black-clad gunman
squeezed the younger man’s shoulder and headed toward the jailhouse. Vin watched
him walk away and smiled softly. He knew everyone thought the gunslinger was a
cold-hearted bastard, but to Tanner he was a man he respected and truth be told, loved
like a brother. Shaking his head at his unnatural sentimentality, he headed to his bunk
for the night.

***************************************************************

Chris saw the flickering of the lantern and suspected the kid had fallen asleep. He
didn’t want to wake him and make him think that the gunslinger was checking up on
him. Larabee already felt bad enough about the earlier argument he incited. *Ah hell,
Larabee, you might as well face it. They’ve all gotten under your skin, some more than
others.* Smiling at his sudden revelation, he reached for the jailhouse door.
Unfortunately, Haverty had picked that moment to exit his cage.

The two men looked at each other in astonishment, but only for a mere second. As Chris
reached for his gun, Wayne raised the Colt he had taken from J.D. and fired. Even the
Legendary Gun of Chris Larabee couldn’t outdraw a gun already loose.

Chris felt the impact to his left side, but after years of living so close to the edge, he still
managed to get his gun out and fire a returning bullet. He heard the intake of breath
from the escapee, but wasn’t able to focus on the exact point of impact due to his own
increasing wave of pain.

Haverty grasped his left hip as he felt the bullet scrap the bone, but cocked the hammer
of the colt to fire again. But before the hammer could drop, running footsteps and
shouts were coming his way.

“Damn,” Wayne looked from the collapsing Larabee toward the shadows, knowing five
gunmen would be approaching him from all directions. Taking another quick glance at
the gunslinger at his feet, he turned and limped as fast as he could toward the livery.
Haverty hoped the sight of their fallen comrade would slow his pursurers long enough
for a headstart.

**********************************************************

“Chris!” Vin had almost made it to his sleeping area when he heard the shot. He knew
it had come from the vicinity of the jail and hoped that the shot had hit someone other
than one of his partners.

Tanner turned, drawing his Winchester as he began running at top speed. He suspected
the others had also been aroused by the shot and would be backing him up shortly. He
hoped they would be in time.

***********************************************************

“OW!” J.D. pulled himself up slowly, and tried to focus on what just happened. “Damn
it. Haverty.” At the thought of his escaping prisoner, the kid jumped to his feet and ran
toward the open door. What he found when he got there made his heart sink to his
knees.

“Oh God, Chris.” J.D. fell to the side of the prone black clad figure. With a shaky hand
he placed it on the man’s chest, he felt the slow, but apparent rise and fall of the
inhaling and exhaling needed for breathing.

J.D. shut his eyes to the sudden wave of nausea that assualted him, but was jerked
quickly back to reality by Vin’s words.

“What happened J.D.?” The bounty hunter was kneeling on the other side of Chris and
gripping the unconscious figure’s arm in heartache. The kid stared at the lanky tracker
and felt himself getting sick again.

“He got away.” Vin snapped his head up at the sound of J.D. “I let him escape.” Tanner
could see the guilt and hurt echoing in the kid’s eyes, but couldn’t bring himself to ease
the pain at the moment. His first concern was Chris.

“Calm down, J.D. and go get Nathan.” The anger and gruffness in the tracker’s voice
suprised even him, but seemed to bring the kid around.

“Right.” J.D. got up and started toward the boarding house, only to be stopped about 10
feet from the jail by Buck.

“Kid, you all right?” J.D. gazed into the older man’s eyes, afraid to speak the atrocity he
was responsible for. “J.D.?” Wilmington tried again.

“I need to get Nathan.” The boy’s voice was quiet and somewhat serene when he
uttered the words.

“I’m here J.D. You hurt?” Jackson had came to a sliding halt beside the pair.

“No, its Chris. Vin’s with him.” J.D. pointed back toward the jailhouse and the kneeling
bounty hunter. Nathan didn’t ask anymore questions, just took off at a dead run for the
porch.

“What happened, J.D.?” Buck had wanted to run after the doc, but the look on the kid’s
face told him he was needed there more.

“Its my fault Buck. I let him escape, and if I’d been paying attention, instead of still
feeling sorry for myself.” J.D.’s speech was broken by a sob.

“Take it easy, kid. I’m sure whatever happened wasn’t your fault. Right now we need
to concentrate on Chris and then the rest we’ll deal with later. Alright?” Wilmington
laid his hands on the younger man’s shoulders hoping to give him some support. It
evidently worked, because the teen took a deep breath and nodded.

“Your right. Chris needs us.” Buck clasped the kid in a quick hug and then turned them
toward the jail, watching as Josiah and Ezra were racing to join the others on the porch.

*************************************************************

“Nathan, he gonna be alright?” Vin didn’t trust his voice to speak many words at the
moment. He was staring at the pale face of his best friend and feeling the blood ooze
through his fingers that were pressing against the wound.

“I’ll know more as soon as I check his injuries.” Jackson had knelt in the spot J.D. had
vacated a few minutes earlier.

“Dear Lord, what happened?” Ezra had come to a halt behind the tracker.

“Chris’s been shot. I don’t know how bad yet, but if the amount of blood is any
indication, it ain’t good.” The healer had removed Tanner’s hand and was ripping the
cloth away from the penetrated flesh. “Damn.” Nathan heard the sharp intakes of
breath around him at his experlative, and knew they had understood the full meaning
behind that one word.

“You want us to carry him to the clinic or back inside the jail, Brother Nate?” Josiah’s
usually soft baritone was quivering with an unknown feeling of fear.

“I need to get that bullet out as soon as possible. Lets take him to one of the cells and
then I’ll go get what supplies I need.” Jackson manuvered himself around the prone
form until he was at his head. He slid his hands under Larabee’s shoulders as he
watched the preacher grabbed the gunslinger legs. He didn’t dare glance at the bounty
hunter, he didn’t need to see the hurt and pain in that gaze to know how much was
hanging on his head to heal this man.

Standish must have picked up on the black man’s nervousness because he laid a hand
on the tracker’s arm.

“Come on, Vin. Lets you and I go see if the vermin that is responsible for this is still in
the vicinity.” Tanner hesitated for a moment, never letting his eyes stray from the body
being carried inside the jailhouse.

“What if he wakes up?” The gambler blanched at the slight quiver he heard in the lanky
man’s words. It was something Ezra thought he would never associate with this man.
Fear. The notion caused a shiver to run down the card shark’s spine.

“If we are needed, Mr. Jackson or Mr. Sanchez will come and retrieve us.” Standish
gave the bounty hunter’s arm a soft tug in the direction of the livery.

“Ezra’s right, Vin. I’ll come and get you, you need to see if Haverty’s still around.” The
tracker blinked, realizing Buck was now standing on the other side of him.

He looked into Wilmington’s eyes and saw his own anguish reflected there. “Go on.”
The gunslinger placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder and also gave him a slight push.

Tanner couldn’t form any words so just nodded and began to walk toward the stables,
and slowly felt a burning anger like he had never experienced seeping its way into his
soul. If Chris Larabee should die, Hell wouldn’t be able to hide the man that killed him
from Vin Tanner.

********************************************************************

J.D. had hid behind Buck as he was talking to Vin, not wanting to face the heartache he
could feel radiating from the tracker. He knew he had put that emotion there and
would never be able to disguise that guilt, no matter how hard he would try to right
this wrong.

“Come on, kid. Lets go see if Nathan or Josiah need any help.” Buck had witnessed the
display of hurt and guilt cross the teen’s face. He knew he was gonna have to do
something quick or they may loose J.D. forever.

***************************************************************

“I’ve did everything I know how to do. The rest is gonna be up to Chris.” Nathan was
sharing his diagnosis to the five solemn expressions surrounding him. He was afraid
that wasn’t going to be enough this time.

“I’m sure our stubborn leader will not go down without a fight.” Ezra’s southern drawl
was softer as he spoke. He and Vin had scowered the town for any sign of the escapee
but was unlucky in their findings. The tracker had found some traces of blood, but the
unexpected downpour curbed any chances at following them.

“You boys best go get some rest. The next few days are gonna be long and hard.”
Jackson used his words to include everyone but his gaze was directed to the bounty
hunter who was still perched at Chris’s side. He had taken that position as soon as
Nathan had left the spot. The healer was more worried about Vin, and from the looks of
J.D., the kid wasn’t in much better shape. Larabee only had to fight the loss of blood
and possible infection. These two were battling the age old infliction of guilt. One
thought he was guilty by letting the prisoner get the best of him. And the other one,
because he wasn’t there to take the bullet, that had hit Chris, himself.

Nathan shook his head and sought the eyes of the preacher. Knowing if anybody could
help save the souls of those two men, it would be Josiah. But the only thing Jackson
found in those orbs, was a look of surrender. The two men held each others gaze,
allowing themselves to draw some sort of strength from the other for the impending
fight facing them in the days ahead.

Buck had watched the healer work on his oldest friend and still couldn’t come to grips
with what was happening. He had saw Chris shot before, hell he had nursed him back
to health himself a couple of times, but this time it seemed different. Unreal somehow.
*Maybe I’m dreaming.* The gunslinger shook his head and turned to find J.D. staring
out the window. The kid hadn’t looked at Larabee since they entered the jailhouse and
this scared Wilmington.

*Hang in there, son. I can’t loose you too.* Buck sighed heavily and rubbed at his tired
eyes. It was about 2:00 in the morning and nobody was gonna get any sleep tonight.
The gunslinger slid his gaze back to the cell and felt another twinge of sadness. *This
was one dream, or nightmare, I’d hoped would have never come true.* Wilmington felt
a lone tear edge its way down his cheek and at that moment hoped it wouldn’t have
more to follow it in the days to come.

**********************************************************************

Due to the unexpected rainshower, the town was unusually quiet. It was early morning
and the sun was glistening off the mud puddles in the street. The jail had
little movement all night. No one came or went, afraid of what would happen if one of
them left.

Young J.D. had refused Buck’s many attempts to get him to go to the boardinghouse
and rest. Wilmington tried for a couple of hours but the gunslinger finally gave
up and seated himself at the nearby sheriff’s desk. Josiah had kept a vigil outside the
cell, partly to offer assistance to Nathan should he need it, but mainly to catch Vin,
should he fall over from exhaustion.

Ezra had thought about leaving during the wee hours of the morning, but everytime he
would rise to do so, his gaze would trail to the black-clad form on the cot and freeze. He
would replay the many arguments and the disappointment he caused with Chris and
then get this overwhelming guilt, that if maybe he would have been with him instead of
occupying his usual table in the saloon, he could have done something. Anything. But
that was fruitless, and so he sat back down and continued shuffling his cards, waiting.

Nathan hadn’t stopped moving. He would go from Larabee’s bedside, to the
window J.D. still sat at and check his head wound. The young man would wave the
healer off each time, saying ‘Its nothing.’ Jackson thought about letting him be, but he
wasn’t that easily deterred considering the complications that could occur with a head
injury. So, he kept dogging him, and finally J.D. was the one to give in, accepting the
black man’s probing until he was satisfied that nothing but a severe headache would
come of the wound.

The jail-cell itself was the place of least activity. Vin hadn’t moved a muscle since he
took the seat by Chris’s bed. His eyes looked closed at first glance, but if further
inspected they were only half-closed and glued to the rise and fall of the gunslinger’s
chest.

Larabee had held his own through the night, but unconsciousness still gripped him and
this worried Nathan most. Chris should have regained some state of awareness, but
nothing. Not even a slight moan of pain.

Each man began to feel the tension and restlessness. They hated the waiting, the hoping,
and most the praying. Josiah was the only one of them who had the slightest bit of faith
left, and at some times that was nill.

“So, what is the prognosis, Mr. Jackson?” The gambler couldn’t contain his question any
longer.

“The bleeding has stopped and there ain’t no fever, so he should have a full recovery.”
Nathan glanced up from the stove, where he had been pouring himself a cup of
coffee.

“What do you mean ‘should’?” Buck couldn’t keep the fear from creeping into his voice.

“Theres no physical reason I can think of, he shouldn’t be awake by now.” Jackson had
moved to stand next to the open cell door.

“The body has many ways of healing itself, isn’t that right Brother Nate?” Sanchez was
trying to help ease some of the worry.

“Yeah, it does. It could be, his body ain’t healed enough to let him wake up. I just don’t
know.” The healer rubbed at his tired eyes.

“Well, Mr. Larabee is a complicated man. It would suffice it to say, he never does
anything the normal or rather the easy way.” Ezra’s southern drawl had a confidence
that everyone seemed to need at the moment.

“Ezra’s right. That old war dog is too ornery to die, much less make things easy on us.”
Wilmington got up from his chair and walked over to J.D. “So, see kid. Theres nothing
to worry about. How does you and me going and getting something to eat sound.”
Buck reached over and squeezed the youth’s shoulder.

“Thats okay, Buck. I think I’ll just go lay down for awhile.” The teen never raised his
head as he left the jailhouse.

“Damn.” Wilmington turned to the preacher with pleading eyes. “I need help, Josiah. I
don’t know what to do.”

Sanchez came to the gunslinger’s side. “I think he just needs some time. No matter how
many times we try to tell him it wasn’t his fault, he ain’t gonna believe it until he’s
ready.” The holy man layed a reasurring hand on Buck’s arm.

The gunslinger couldn’t speak, so he just nodded his head and sighed heavily.
Wilmington started to head out the door to follow J.D., when he heard the first shot.

********************************************************

“Wouldya’ lookie at what the cat drug in?” J.D. had been walking to his room when the
voice stopped him.

“Who’s there?” The tired sotto seemed foreign to be coming from the exuberant youth.

“Well, we haven’t never met, but you do know my brother. And he ain’t to happy with
you. Neither am I.” Three figures emerged from the shadows of the alleyway.

“Haverty!” The teen gasped at the resemblence of the men to his escaped prisoner.

“I’m one of ‘em anyway.” The leader of the group was about a foot taller than J.D. and
scary. He was missing his top front teeth, and his hair looked like it hadn’t been
brushed since he was born. “You should have left my little brother alone.”

The kid felt the hair begin to raise on his neck. He was in big trouble and he knew it. So,
J.D. took in his situation and pictured what the others would do and did it.

“Your brother broke the law. And as soon as I catch him, I’m gonna make sure he
hangs. Not only for the robbery, but attempted murder.” The kid was amazed at the
calmness in his voice.

Apparently, the Haverty clan wasn’t impressed. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let
some piss-ant boy drop a noose on my kid brother.” The toothless fellow began
to reach for his gun, but J.D. had anticipated it and drew before him and fired.

J.D. had never had a one on one gunfight, but he had watched Chris and the others
numerous times and hoped he had learned well. The kid knew he had hit his target,
but there was two more threats to worry about.

J.D. dove toward the street, hoping his shot had alerted the others and if more bullets
were to fly, he would have help. He heard the one on his left cuss and instinctively
raised his weapon, but before he fired he heard Buck yell his name and then the
pounding of footsteps. The enemy must have realized the impending confrontation
because when J.D. looked the two were running down the alley.

“Kid, you alright?” Wilmington had slid to a stop in front of the youth, placing himself
between any danger and J.D.

The teen glanced up and noticed the dark circles under the gunslinger’s eyes and the
fear radiating there. “I’m okay, Buck.” J.D. picked himself off the ground, where he had
landed and looked around for the others. He saw Josiah heading down the alley way
and then his gaze came to rest on the gambler.

“Mr. Dunn, might I inquire as to the identity of the dead man at my feet?” Ezra was
standing near the entrance pointing at a body.

J.D. seemed confused at first, but it all came flooding back. “Thats-uh thats...” The kid
was suddenly struck speechless.

“Its okay, son. Take your time.” Buck reached up and was rubbing J.D.’s shoulders
slowly.

The kid cleared his throat and looked at the gambler, drawing strength from the
concern he saw etched there.

“Thats one of Haverty’s brothers’. He said he wasn’t too happy with me. I told him that
was too bad and as soon as I found his brother, I was gonna hang him.” J.D. finished his
sentence with more conviction than what he felt at the moment.

There was dead silence for a few seconds, but was broken suddenly by laughter. The
youth glanced from the dead man to the cackling form of his best friend.

“Buck, you alright?” J.D. thought for sure the gunslinger had went over the edge.
“What are you laughing about?”

“Ah, kid.” Wilmington quickly grabbed the teen in a bear hug and whooped with
delight. “If Chris could have heard you just now, he woulda been proud.”

J.D. stared at the man in stunned silence, but quickly recovered when he remembered
why Larabee wasn’t there.

“No, he wouldn’t. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t let Haverty escape in the
first place.” The youth jerked from Buck’s grasp and turned to resume his course to
his room.

Wilmington’s face fell instantly at the kid’s outburst.

“Give it time, Buck. The only person I know that can help him now is Mr. Larabee.”
Standish had made sure the body wasn’t going to resurrect itself and come to stand
with the gunslinger.

“I know, Ezra. I’m just afraid it’ll be too late.”

*********************************************************

“At least we know Haverty’s still alive.” Nathan had just finished checking Chris’s
wounds and joined the rest of the group, except for J.D. in the jail’s front room.

“Yes, and apparently he felt the need to send his loathesome family to try and finish our
youngest partner off.” Ezra’s normally unflappable demeanor was slipping, as he
thought back to how close they had come to losing J.D.

The gambler had examined the dead man and found his gun was just a fraction of an
inch from being unholstered. This meant the youth hadn’t outdrew the older man by
much.

“So what are we gonna do?” Buck’s voice reflected his frayed nerves.

“We go after them, before they have a chance to get us.” The soft words drifted from
inside the cell. The four men looked up to find Vin standing in the cell doorway with a
look of pure hatred in his eyes. “Haverty ain’t gonna get away again. Buck, you go get
J.D.” The tracker waited until the room was silent once more after the gunslinger’s
abrupt departure and then continued. “Nathan, you stay with Chris. Josiah, you and
Ezra go saddle the horses, while I go tell Mary we’re leaving, to wire the Judge.”

Jackson watched the two men exit after recieving their orders and then let his gaze
encompass the bounty hunter. He could see the hollows under the eyes, the lines
running across his forehead from worry, and the coldness in the gaze.

“You sure your up to this, Vin?” The healer placed his hand on the tracker’s arm.

Tanner glanced down at the gentle hand, and then into the worried face. “I have to be.
Chris don’t need me right now, and if I just sit around here.....” Vin let his gaze focus on
the prone figure in the cell and then continued. “If I just sit around here, Haverty may
come back and get J.D.” The bounty hunter’s eyes turned to pure ice. “And I ain’t gonna
let that happen.”

Nathan watched the young buckskin walk out the door and raised his head in a silent
prayer to bring his friends, no his family, back to him safe. He then resumed his
position at his patient’s side and hoped to look down soon and see another set of ice
blue eyes peering at him.

“You best get better quick. This family is going to hell fast, and your the only one who
can rope ‘em and bring ‘em back. Ya here.” Jackson laid a cool cloth over Larabee’s
forehead and let a small smile crease his handsome face. “Just get better.”

******************************************************************************

“How you doing, J.D.?” Buck had been riding beside the quiet youth since noon.

“I’m fine, Buck, so would quit asking already.” J.D. gave the gunslinger a sidelong
glare. He had wanted to stay in Four Corners and wait for the rest of the Havertys’ to
come after him, but the others had insisted he come along. *I don’t know why. I’ll
probably just get them shot or killed too.*

Wilmington watched the emotions play across the kid’s face and sighed. He had seen
those feelings before, in his mirror.

“Look, son. None of this is your fault. If its anybody’s, its that creep Haverty’s. You
were doing what you were told.” J.D. brought his hand up to silence the older man.

“I know, Buck. The problem isn’t that I was doing what I was told, the problem is I
screwed up doing it once again. I can’t do anything right. I should have listened to my
dreams.” The young man sighed and spurred his horse ignoring the confusion lacing
Wilmington’s face.

“Anything, Brother Buck?” Josiah’s soft baritone floated around the gunslinger.

“Well, no.” Wilmington breathed in heavily.

“All we can do is keep trying.” Sanchez reached over and patted the younger man’s
arm in sympathy. He had been in his situation numerous times. *Saving souls ain’t no
walk in the park, brother. I should know.*

Josiah dropped back in line once again. Ezra was riding second behind Vin and so far
they had a pretty good trail to follow. Luckily, the rain had left mud and the one thing
you can’t hide in mud, is hoofprints.

“How close are we, Mr. Tanner?” The gambler had moved up to the side of the tracker.
He noticed the shadow of beard and the sagging eyelids and exhaled slowly.

“About half a mile back, I reckon.” The bounty hunter’s usual raspy voice was even
more so due to his tiredness. “How’s J.D.?” Vin turned a quick glance to Ezra.

“From what I overheard, not well I’m afraid.”

“Damn.” Tanner resumed his gaze straight ahead and added a little more guilt to his
list. *I shoulda said something before now. He probably thinks I’m blaming him.* The
tracker rubbed at his eyes in disgust.

“He’ll be fine, I’m sure. With all of us around to point the wayward youth to his correct
path....” Standish let his words drag on with a smile and was happy when he saw a
semblence of Vin’s soft grin appear on his lips.

“Yeah. We’ve went the wrong way enough times to make sure he don’t get lost.” The
tracker nodded his head and gave the gambler a slap to his shoulder. “Lets go get these
guys so we can go home.”

************************************************************************

“Nathan, how is he?” Jackson looked up from the medical journal he was reading to
answer Mary Travis.

“He’s still holding his own.”

“Good. I came to tell you the Judge just wired me back and said he was in Eagle Bend
and if we needed him just to send a telegraph.” The young woman came to stand
outside the cell and glanced inside. Her voice caught at the pale form in the cot.

“Don’t you worry none, Mary. Chris is as stubborn as the devil himself. He ain’t going
nowhere.” Nathan reached over and checked the gunslinger’s pulse just to reassure
himself.

“I know. Its not just Chris I’m worried about. I saw the others as they were leaving. I
would have never dreamed such diverse men could come to mean so much to one
another. How do you explain it Nathan?” Ms. Travis leaned herself against the bars and
waited for the answer to a question she had been plagued with since they first rode into
town after the Seminole Village.

“Well, the only way I’ve come to understand it is we’re like a big puzzle and each of us
has a required piece in our soul that fits to one of the others.” Nathan sighed at the
reporter’s confusion. “Let me see if I can make this more simple. Each of the seven of us
has a piece of string that when wrapped with the other six make a rope. And that rope
is like day or night. If one of the strings was missing...” Jackson stopped when he saw
the understanding light in the woman’s eyes.

“Yes, Nathan I can see it now. Thank you.” Mary looked once more at Larabee and then
gave the healer a smile and left. She stopped once outside the jail and thought about
what Nathan had said. *I just hope that rope isn’t too frayed to hold together.*

*************************************************************************

“Hold up.” Vin raised his hand and quickly dismounted.

“What is it?” Buck and the others had filed out alongside the tracker.

“The tracks have seperated.” Tanner looked around suddenly.

“What does that mean?” Ezra had started to join Vin on the ground, but was stopped
when he heard the all to familiar click of a rifle.

“Get down.” The bounty hunter grabbed for his mare’s leg and dove behind an
abandoned log. He jumped up and got a couple of shots before he dared a glance to
find the others.

“Ezra, where you at?” Vin fired another couple of rounds.

“To your right, Mr. Tanner with Mr. Sanchez.” The tracker heard the pistol fire from
that direction and knew they were both okay. He then began searching for Buck and
J.D.

“Buck!” He waited a couple seconds and started to yell again, but another shout cut him
off.

“We’re over here.” The bounty hunter turned to his left and spotted both men crouched
behind a nearby bush. He sighed in relief and then began berating himself for not
noticing the ambush. “Real bright there Tanner.” The low mumble was interrupted by
the onslaught of bullets.

“How many you think they are, Buck?” J.D. was huddled near the left side of the bush.

“I don’t know, kid, but if I was to guess I’d say a whole army.” Wilmington risked a
quick wink in the youth’s direction and was happy to see some of the old J.D.’s
enthusiasm back.

“Your full of it, Buck.” J.D. couldn’t help but smile. Even though he still felt guilty for
causing Chris to get shot, he knew this is where he wanted to be. With these men.

“Thanks, Buck.” The teen glanced at his best friend after he fired a couple of shots.

Wilmington returned a few slugs of his own and then sent the kid a smile that spoke
volumes. “Anytime, son. Anytime.”

The gunmen swapped bullets for a few more minutes and then the firing stopped as
quick as it had started. None of the six dared to move and then instead of bullets, words
were coming at them.

“Give up the kid and we’ll let the rest of you live.”

J.D. recognized the voice instantly. Wayne Haverty.

“Go to hell!” Buck’s reply could have been heard to Texas.

“I gave you a chance.” Haverty’s sick laugh was heard just before the volley began
again.

*********************************************************************

Nathan had almost wore a hole in the jailhouse floor. He hadn’t slept in two days and
now he had no idea if his friends were alive or dead.

“Nathan,” Chris Larabee’s voice was just above a whisper.

The healer stopped so suddenly he almost took a header in the cell. “Chris, your
awake.”

The gunslinger let a smile creep onto his pale face. “How the hell do you expect
anybody to sleep with all that pacing.”

Jackson chuckled softly as he resumed his seat by the man’s bed. He reached over and
checked the wound, happy to see it was healing with no infection. “Sorry about that.”

Chris was watching his friend as he went through his doctoring rituals. He could see
the dullness in his eyes and also the worry. He didn’t think it was all for him when he
looked around and noticed no one else in the room.

“Where’s the others?” Larabee felt a dread creep into his heart.

“They went after the Havertys’.” Nathan didn’t want to upset Chris more than
necessary, but he immediately saw the stubborn set of the gunslinger’s jaw and knew he
wasn’t gonna get off easy.

“When?” Larabee tried to raise himself but the lack of food, water, and blood loss was
against that notion.

“Yesterday, just before noon.”

“And they ain’t back yet?!” Chris would have jumped up and went after them if Nathan
hadn’t grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Now Chris, you ain’t in any shape to walk, much less ride a horse. They’re alright.”
Jackson was trying to push the man back onto the bed, but Larabee wouldn’t have it.

“Let me up, Nathan. If I know J.D., he’s feeling about as low as dirt right now. Plus,
Vin’s probably racked with foolish guilt for not being able to stop me from getting
shot.”

“You’d know about that, wouldn’t you.” Nathan couldn’t help but get in the jab. “Look
Chris. I’m worried about them too, but it ain’t gonna help nobody iffen you try to go
after them.”

Larabee seemed to weigh the healer’s words and finally gave in. “Alright.” Chris settled
back and felt the remaining strength he had seep out of him. He was about to let the
blackness claim him once more when he heard Mary’s yell.

“Nathan, come quick.” Jackson jerked his head to the door as it slammed open, and
then reached out and pushed his patient back down.

“You stay put. You here.” The healer waited until he saw the nod and then followed
Ms. Travis into the street. What he found made his heart sink to the ground.

Three horses he instantly recognized as Buck’s, Ezra’s, and Josiah’s had just trotted into
town, riderless.

“Damn.” Nathan turned at the experlative and saw Chris’s pale form framed in the
doorway. “Saddle my horse, Nathan.”

Jackson began shaking his head, but stopped when he saw the cold gleam in the
gunslinger’s eyes.

“Alright.” The healer knew they would be no stopping the man now. Now, that there
was a good chance at least three of their friends were hurt or worse, dead.

*****************************************************************************

The gunfight had slowed since the sun went down, but not completely stopped. Thanks
to the bright full moon overhead, there was still a way to picture the quarry.

“Any ideas brothers?” The five men had managed to manuver themselves within a few
feet of one another, and now Josiah was voicing what everyone was thinking.

“Well, seeing as how three of our horses decided to head home without us, I’d say we
wait for reinforcements.” Buck and J.D. were still crouched near the bush.

“And what fortification are we to expect, Mr. Wilmington? I have as much faith in Mr.
Jackson’s abilities as anyone, but at this point I do not see how he could help us.” Ezra
had decided to play devil’s advocate on this excursion.

“Ezra’s right. Even if Nathan finds us, they ain’t much he could do to help. We’ve got to
think of a way out of this on our own.” Vin checked his ammo and then the
surrounding area to make sure the enemy hadn’t planned a sneak attack.

“Why don’t we give them what they want.” J.D.’s hushed tones almost went unheard.
Almost.

“Now that would be down right foolish wouldn’t it? After we spent the better part of
the day holding these jerks at bay and you think we should give them what they want.”
Wilmington was trying to control his temper but failing miserably.

“Easy, Brother Buck.” Josiah was trying to relay his calmness from a distance.

“Take it easy. TAKE IT EASY! How can I do that when the kid has obviously lost his
mind.” Buck’s voice was raising and each man knew the conversation had a wider
audience.

“Buck, would let me explain.” J.D. reached out and laid a hand on the gunslinger’s arm,
afraid he would jump up and try to go after the Havertys’ single handedly.

“What ‘cha got in mind kid?” Vin was like the others and thought the worst when the
boy spoke, but with further inspection he saw J.D. had a plan brewing behind those
dark eyes instead of self-sacrifice.

“Well, the whole reason we’re out here is that Haverty wants me dead. Then why don’t
we make it look like I am and then maybe we could get the upper hand.” The teen
looked in each man’s eyes and saw recognition dawning.

“Might just work.” Tanner let a smile cross his lips.

“And just how to expect to accomplish said feat, Mr. Dunn. I’m sure Mr. Wilmington
would have been happy to shoot you himself a few minutes earlier, but I don’t think the
antagonists cornering us would quite believe our killing one of our own.” Ezra didn’t
know why he was against this notion of the kid’s, but something didn’t set well with
the gambler. The odds were not good.

“Well, I was thinking since mine and Vin’s horses are the only two left, we could make
it look like I’m going for help. Then when Haverty and his kin start shooting I could
fake being shot.” J.D. let a sheepish grin pierce his features.

“What if it ends up not being fake? You thought about that.” Buck wasn’t going to go
along with the hairbrained scheme.

“Look, while I’m distracting them, you guys can get the drop on them.” The kid stared
the older gunslinger in the eye, trying to get him to let him do this. He had too.

“Alright, but I don’t like it.” Buck ran a trembling hair threw his fingers and slapped his
hat on his head.

“We’ll wait until just before sun-up. You boys try and get some sleep, I’ll take watch.”
Vin settled himself into the log.

***************************************************************************

The healer had saddled both horses and was now waiting at the bottom of the steps to
the jail. “Damnit, Chris. You ain’t up for this. You’ve only been awake a few hours and
that wound is still fresh.”

Larabee was standing on the porch dressed once more in black. “Nathan, right now I
don’t give a damn about how I feel or whats wrong with me. They’re out there and in
trouble and we’re the only ones who can help.”

The two men stood staring at each other, trying to will their feelings on the other.
Finally, it was Nathan who gave in. He was also worried about the boys and knew as
long as he was with Chris he could keep an eye on him.

“Lets go.” Larabee knew the instant the healer had given in and was now trying to
mount his horse. It proved harder than anticipated, but he did it. And now they were
on there way with the three horses in tow.

****************************************************************************

“You sure about this J.D.?” Buck was holding the younger man’s arm in a deathgrip.

“Yes, Buck. I’m sure. Please let me do this.” J.D. turned pleading eyes to the older man
and Wilmington relented.

“Alright. You just be careful.”

The teen couldn’t help but smile. He knew these men cared about him, thats why when
he messed up it hurt so much.

“I will. I promise.”

“You ready, kid?” Vin had went and retrieved the youth’s horse.

“Yeah.” J.D. nodded hoping his voice hadn’t gave way his nervousness.

The kid inched his way to Tanner’s side, trying to keep hidden as much as possible. He
slowly mounted his horse and then with a loud whoop, jerked the reins and headed out
of the camp at a dead run.

The Havertys’ apparently hadn’t prepared for such boldness. They each jumped up and
began firing aimlessly at the retreating rider.

“Damnit, its the boy. Get him!” Wayne had come to his feet weaker than the others due
to the still healing bullet wound.

The men started scrambling for their horses but were cut off by well placed shots from
their left. They looked up in time to see four men emerge from the tree line and each
had death etched in their faces. The Havertys’ forgot the running the quarry and
returned fire with the advancing foursome.

J.D. noticed the moment they stopped firing at him and immediately turned back the
way he come. He burst out of the trees in time to see one Haverty had snuck up behind
Buck.

“Buck!” The kid shouted the warning but not in time. The gunman fired and watched
pleased as Wilmington grabbed his leg and went down.

J.D. quickly drew his Colt and fired three rounds into the enemy. After making sure his
shots had met there mark, he dismounted and ran to Buck’s side.

“Buck?” The kid knelt beside the prone form and a wave of deja vu swept over him.
*Not again.*

“You okay, Buck?” The words quivered slightly as they left the youth’s mouth.

“I’ve felt better.” Wilmington blinked his eyes open and saw the stricken teen kneeling
over him. “It okay kid. Nothing old Buck ain’t had before.” The gunslinger watched as
some of the worry vanished from the younger man’s face and sighed in relief. He just
wasn’t up to fighting J.D.’s guilt right now. Wilmington started to say something else,
but stopped when he heard the silence around him.

Buck quickly pushed himself to a semi-sitting position and looked around frantically.
He began to relax as he saw his three friends milling around the dead bodies of the
camp. He started to lay back down when he felt a pain shoot through his injured leg.

“Ow!” Wilmington glared at J.D. when he noticed the youth was trying to staunch the
flow of blood.

“I’m sorry, Buck, but I’ve gotta stop this bleeding.” The kid turned sorrowful but
determined eyes to the older man.

“Alright, just don’t be so rough. Old Buck’s delicate you know.” The gunslinger winked
at the teen once again.

J.D. couldn’t help but shake his head and laugh.

“You okay, Brother Buck?” Josiah had walked up to the two men after he made sure his
men had been taken care of.

“Yeah, I’m okay Josiah. The Havertys’?”

“I’m sorry to say the clan has met their demise.” Ezra now joined the trio.

“What about Wayne?” J.D. looked up expetantly from his job of tying off Buck’s injury,
which didn’t seem that serious. It looked to the youth that the bullet had went straight
through his left leg and had missed the bone.

“I’m afraid Wayne Haverty was fatally wounded from a direct shot to the heart. Mr.
Tanner’s aim is definitely deadly.” The gambler turned to see the tracker double
checking their handy-work and then head their way.

“I don’t about you boys, but I’m ready to go home.” Vin gave each man a sad smile and
then let his gaze linger on J.D.

“You did good kid.” Tanner saw the mixture of emotions on the youth’s face and was
happy when it finally stopped on gratitude.

“Thanks, Vin.” The two exchanged a silent nod and then began preparations for getting
themselves back to Four Corners.

*******************************************************************************

“Damnit Chris, for the last time, slow down.” Nathan was riding beside the gunman
and trying his best to get the man to listen to him. “You ain’t gonna do them any good
if you bleed to death before we get there.”

This seemed to get through because the black-clad man slowed his horse to a trot.

“I know Nathan. I just can’t help thinking this is all my fault.” Chris shook his head
sadly. “I shouldn’t have left J.D. alone with Haverty. I knew he was a bad one.”

“Now, Chris. Don’t you go feeling guilty too. Theres enough of that between Vin and
J.D. to last a couple of lifetimes right now. Things happen and we can’t change them, so
we just gotta learn to live with them.” Jackson watched Larabee’s face and saw the hurt
pass over it. “They’re fine. That bunch is too damn stubborn to get hurt.”

Chris chuckled as he thought about what Nathan said. “Yeah, they are at that.” The two
men rode on slowly, each lost in thoughts of what might lay ahead.

“Chris, hold up.” Larabee pulled in his reins and looked toward the healer.

“Whats wrong, Nate?” The gunslinger saw that Jackson’s gaze was riveted on
something ahead. Chris turned and what he saw made all the pain disappear and a
peace settle in his soul.

Five horses strung out in a line was headed toward them and each man look to be fine.
The riders came to a stop a couple of feet from the other two.

Vin had seen Chris and Nathan as soon as they had topped the hill and felt a weight lift
from his shoulders. His best friend looked a little paler than usual but the determined
glare in his eyes was ever present.

“Hey, cowboy.” Tanner grinned.

“I figured you boys lost your way home.” Larabee also drank in the sight of the lanky
tracker. He had been afraid he would never get to see those confident blue eyes of his
best friend again.

“I’m afraid we could never do that Mr. Larabee. Thats one path we all agree on taking.”
Ezra gave the tracker a silent nod and the bounty hunter tipped his hat in agreement.

“You alright J.D?” Chris noticed the youth hadn’t even looked at him since they had
stopped.

“Yeah.” The kids word was barely above a whisper.

“J.D., look at me son.” Larabee waited until he finally saw the dark eyes staring at him.
“It wasn’t your fault.” Chris gazed at the youth patiently, expectant of the
understanding to come into the kid’s face.

J.D. couldn’t break the spell Chris’s eyes seemed to weave around him. He hoped he
wasn’t misinterpreting what he saw there, but after he glanced at the men around him
he knew he hadn’t.

The kid couldn’t trust his voice so just nodded.

“Good.” Larabee let himself relax for the first time since he woke up.

“Buck, you bleedin’?” Nathan had let his eyes roam over each of the five, gauging their
physical status.

“It ain’t nothing you can’t fix, doc. That is as soon as we get back to town. I don’t know
about the rest of you, but I’m plum tuckered out.” Wilmington let his jovial grin split
his face wide open.

“I take it since your riding somebody else’s horses, the Havertys’ didn’t get their
revenge.” Chris nodded to the three unknown mounts.

“Lets just say, they got what they had coming to ‘em.” Vin let some of the coldness seep
into his voice at the mention of the dead men.

“Well, then lets ride.” Larabee turned his horse for home and waited as the others filed
out beside him. He nodded to each and spurred his mount.

“Kid, I been meaning to ask you something?” Buck had let his horse drop back a couple
of feet and wasn’t surprised when J.D. joined him.

“Whats that, Buck?” The boy glanced at the older man in puzzlement.

“You said something earlier about you should have listened to your dreams. What did
you mean?” Wilmington waited as the youth seem to choose his words carefully.

“Well, after we came back to town from the Seminole Village, I started having this
dream. I thought it was just from where we had been in danger and didn’t think
nothing of it. But everytime we get in a gunfight or one of us comes close to getting
killed, I have the dream.” J.D. stopped afraid the other man would think he was crazy,
but was happy to see an eagerness in the man’s expression. “The dream starts out the
same way everytime. We’re sitting in the saloon, your trying to impress one of the
ladies, me, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra are playing poker, and Chris and Vin are at the
back table just sitting there. Everything seems okay, but all of a sudden somebody
comes through the batwing doors and starts shooting. I try to reach for my guns but
there not there. I turned to the guys at the table with me and try to yell for them to do
something, but nothing comes out of my mouth. I look at them and they don’t even
realize somebody’s shooting at them. I turn around to yell at you, but again nothing
comes out of my mouth. I do the same at Chris and Vin and again the same thing. So, I
jump up and try to tackle the guy but I go right through him. I jerk around to try again
and thats when it happens.” J.D. stops as it gets difficult to speak.

“It okay son.” Buck reaches over and lays his hand on the youth’s arm for support.

“I watched this man shoot you. All of you. And theres nothing I can do to stop it. I see
the bullets hit each of you, but I never hear the shots or the screams. Everything is
happening in silence. I should have known from the first time I had that dream, I
needed to leave before I got one of you killed.” The kid sighed heavily.

“No you shouldn’t have and I for one am glad you didn’t leave.” Wilmington waited
until J.D. was looking at him before he continued. “Let me explain something son.
When you care about somebody, you have fears for them. And in our line of work, we
can’t let those fears show, except in our dreams. Thats why you’ve been having the
same one over and over again, J.D. Its not telling you to run away, its trying to help you
deal with the possibility that you may lose someone you love and not be able to stop it.”

Buck saw the fear creep into the kid’s eyes and couldn’t stop it from entering his own.
“Look, son. Your not the only one who has those kind of dreams. I have them, and I bet
if you asked any of the others, they would say they had too. Even Ezra.”

“I don’t get it, Buck. Why would you guys have those dreams?” J.D. gave the
gunslinger a confused gaze.

“The same reason you do. We’re scared to death of losing each other. Just because we’re
older and have lost people we love, don’t mean its any easier to deal with, J.D. Those
silent dreams are as much a reality for us as they are for you. And if you ever stop
having that dream, thats when you move on.”

“Why?” J.D. couldn’t help the squeaky reply.

“Because that means you’ve stopped caring, and if you stop caring, then your no use to
us.” Buck looked the younger man in the eye and hoped the youth had understood the
full meaning of the words.

J.D. let what the gunslinger had said roll over in his mind and then smiled.

“Thanks, Buck. I guess as long as I’m dreaming, I’m doing the right thing.”

Wilmington gripped the kid’s arm and shook it. “You got it, son.”

The tow exchanged a silent bond of friendship and then resumed their places in the line
of men. J.D. glanced to his right and slowly thanked God for giving him the best family
a kid could ask for, and for letting him dream.

*********************************************************************